The United States Supreme Court has dismissed Nebraska & Oklahoma v Colorado, a landmark case that threatened to reverse Colorado’s marijuana legislation and undermine the nation’s efforts to legalize marijuana.
In the case, the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado’s marijuana legalization in 2012 caused strain to their law enforcement resources through an increase in marijuana-related offenses. Because this was a dispute between states, Nebraska and Oklahoma were able to go straight to the Supreme Court through original jurisdiction, which allows the Supreme Court to see any case involving one state harming another.
Had the plaintiffs been heard by the court, Colorado’s Amendment 64 could have been threatened. It would set a similar precedent for other states that have also legalized cannabis.
Before Monday, The Obama Administration had urged the court to reject the case, as original jurisdiction is a rarely-used technique that is typically restricted to border disputes.
Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said to the court:
“Nebraska and Oklahoma essentially contend that Colorado’s authorization of licensed intrastate marijuana production and distribution increases the likelihood that third parties will commit criminal offenses in Nebraska and Oklahoma by bringing marijuana purchased from licensed entities in Colorado into those states. But they do not allege that Colorado has directed or authorized any individual to transport marijuana into their territories in violation of their laws.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, without comment. The ruling was opposed by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.,
“There’s no question about it: This is good news for legalization supporters.” said Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority,
“This case, if it went forward and the Court ruled the wrong way, had the potential to roll back many of the gains our movement has achieved to date. And the notion of the Supreme Court standing in the way could have cast a dark shadow on the marijuana ballot measures voters will consider this November. “
Nebraska and Oklahoma now have the option to pursue their case in lower courts.
“At the end of the day, if officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma are upset about how much time and resources their police are spending on marijuana cases, as they said in their briefs, they should join Colorado in replacing prohibition with legalization.” said Angell.
“That will allow their criminal justice systems to focus on real crime, and it will generate revenue that can be used to pay for healthcare, education and public safety programs.”
On Friday March 4th 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States will discuss and review Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado, a case that could potentially reverse Colorado’s progressive marijuana legislation.
Bordering states Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit against Colorado in December 2014, twelve months after the state enacted a legal retail cannabis market. Nebraska Attorney General, Jon Bruning claims that Colorado officials are not doing enough to ensure the legal cannabis remains in-state. Containing cannabis products is one of the stipulations listed in the Cole Memorandum, the legalization agreement between states and the federal government.
“This contraband has been heavily trafficked into our state. While Colorado reaps millions from the sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost.”
The stakes are high as the ruling could affect all marijuana legislation at the state level.
“It has the potential to be a big deal,” said Sam Kamin, marijuana law professor at the University of Denver.
“Conceivably it could mean that the court finds that Colorado’s and every other state’s regulations of marijuana [are] preempted by federal law and have to be annulled or repealed, or can’t be enforced.”
The plaintiff’s are hoping the will recognize the power of the Supremacy Clause, which gives power to federal laws over those of individual states.
By invoking the Supremacy Clause, Republican supporters for the plaintiffs would be contradicting their long-held values for state’s rights. It could open the door for more legal conflict between states outside of the issue of marijuana as well.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has affected the case’s schedule as well as its potential outcome. Justice Scalia was predicted to be in support of the plaintiffs based on previous statements he made in response to questions about marijuana reform. In that instance, which was during a visit to Colorado, he used the Supremacy Clause to support continued marijuana prohibition.
Most cases seen by the Supreme Court make a journey though the lower courts, which can lead to an expedited decision by the Justices. Because this is a case between two states, it bypasses this process and goes straight to the Supreme Court. They will need to appoint a “special master” to perform much of the fact-finding and investigation, which could take years.
The Obama Administration has shown its support through the US Solicitor General by asking the Supreme Court to reject the case outright. States with marijuana laws, including Washington, Oregon and California have also shown support for Colorado.
The Solicitor General already filed a brief with the Supreme Court in December, asking that the court not review the case at all because it, “is not an appropriate case for the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction.”
While the Obama Administration has made it clear that it will not pursue marijuana reform during their final year in office, he previously made promises to stay out of state legislation, going so far as suggesting Congress could change federal law if enough states legalize marijuana. Despite these statements, federal agencies under his purview are still aggressively policing marijuana.
The Solicitor General, the top lawyer in the United States, and his team passed down a written recommendation to the Supreme Court that the case against Colorado’s cannabis legalization law be dismissed. The lawsuit, filed by neighboring states Nebraska and Oklahoma in 2014, claimed that Amendment 64 infringes the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause.
Donald B. Verrilli, the Solicitor General, is the third highest ranking official in the Department of Justice, and the lawyer chosen to represent the federal government in front of the Supreme Court. The brief recommending the case against legalization in Colorado not be heard by the Supreme Court was filed on Wednesday December 16.
The brief, which references several previous cases of precedent to backup his decision, explains that this is not the type of case that the Supreme Court should address first. A case such as this should first be heard by a district court.
The brief states:
“The motion for leave to file a bill of complaint should be denied because this is not an appropriate case for the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction.”
It continues, “The Court’s exercise of original jurisdiction is also unwarranted in this case because the preemption issue could be raised in a district-court action.”
Tom Angell, long time activist and founder of the Marijuana Majority commented,
“This is the right move by the Obama administration. Colorado and a growing number of states have decided to move away from decades of failed prohibition laws, and so far things seem to be working out as planned. Legalization generates tax revenue, creates jobs and takes the market out of the hands of drug cartels and gangs.”
This recommendation by the DOJ will likely impact the Supreme Court’s decision.
A woman in York County, Nebraska, is facing many years in prison after being convicted of operating a drug trafficking house where prosecutors said she distributed marijuana and prescription drugs.
An informant purchased marijuana from Hines, at her home in the 1200 Block of Lincoln Avenue, while under surveillance by law enforcement officers. That was enough for officers to acquire a search warrant. During the search, officers found dried cannabis flowers, seeds, stems, two parcels of cash, a digital scale, and prescription drugs that were not prescribed to Hines.
In defense of her actions, Brenda Hines, 53, claimed that her home was “The Temple of Zion” in which cannabis was used for religious purposes. The prescription drugs, she said, were not sold to followers but were instead kept in the house as part of a cooperative. Some members would donate pills so that Hines could give them to other members who needed them.
The court proceedings reflected opposing views of the cannabis use held by Hines. The prosecuting attorney, Candace Dick, argued that Hines used her home to traffic drugs while Hines said that the people who used cannabis in the house were members of the Temple of Zion.
Richard McLellan, Hines’ ex-husband and a temple resident, acted as a witness for the prosecution in exchange for a reduced sentence. McLellan testified that marijuana was sold to temple visitors, a fact that Hines disputed. She admitted to dispensing it, and reported that visitors to her home were given religious instruction when they received the marijuana.
“Everyone who uses marijuana is part of The Temple of Zion.”
“When they come to The Temple, they are initiated. I explain The Temple and how God is part of the marijuana.”
During the trial, Hines admitted that the money she received from temple members was used to support the home or temple, just as is true of any church.
As further evidence that her home was not a drug house but rather a place of worship, Hines read for 40 minutes from the Book of Isaiah, quoting verses that she said supported her religious beliefs about cannabis. According to her, the scriptures condone the use of cannabis and accurately reflect the temple’s views about the divine nature of marijuana.
Ultimately the prosecutor’s argument—that Nebraska’s drugs laws cannot be contravened for religious purposes—prevailed with the jury. Hines is now facing up to 65 years in prison.
Lincoln, NE | On Tuesday, Nebraska lawmakers voted 27-12 in favor of a limited medical marijuana bill. The proposed bill would allow ailing Nebraskans access to the non-psychoactive cannabidiol in both liquid and pill form.
The bill, known as the “Cannabis Compassion and Care Act,” would allow for the use of marijuana by patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, and several other debilitating conditions. Senator Tommy Garrett, who introduced the original bill, has gained the support of fellow lawmakers after striking chronic pain as a qualifying condition and excluding the inhalation of marijuana as a delivery method.
For some, eliminating the instant relief delivered by smoking and vaporizing cannabis seem like a gaping hole in the new legislation, but the bill marks a giant leap forward from Nebraska’s recent lawsuit against Colorado for the state’s claimed responsibility in legal marijuana spilling into Nebraska.
However, the bill still has a long road ahead of it, including two more votes and a defiant governor’s signature. Still, Senator Garret remains optimistic.
“This is not about stoners getting high, this is about medicine and helping people.”
Nebraskan residents seem to agree. When the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act was heard in committee on March 9 of this year, one hundred similar people gave testimony of their own illnesses including Chron’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, and multipole sclerosis. All of these people are looking for a safer, healthier alternative to prescription medication. Garrett aims to deliver.